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Transitions in Media World, from Time Warner Mags to a Variety Reboot; Sragow Returns to L.A.

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by Anne Thompson
February 19, 2013 7:12 PM
1 Comment
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Sad but true. The march of time continues to bring inevitable shifts in the media world.

Newsweek has been swallowed by The Daily Beast. And now Time Warner's publishing arm ($3.4 billion in revenue last year) is considering creating a new joint magazine venture with broadcast giant Meredith Corporation (worth about$1.6 billion). Time Warner and Meredith would each merge their magazine titles, leaving Warner more of an entertainment conglomerate than a publishing company, although it plans to hang on to "news mags" Time, Sports Illustrated, Money and Fortune --for now. They are the crown jewels of what was once a storied publishing empire, now down on its heels. Michael Wolff paints a vivid picture of the Time Inc. decline here.

The new publicly traded company would own Time Warner's People, still a sales behemoth though down from its heights, InStyle, Real Simple and EW as well as Meredith's Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Parents, and Child and Fitness.

Time Warner magazines have been going through layoffs and buyouts, among them EW top critics Ken Tucker and Lisa Schwarzbaum, who are moving on. The future of EW, lately edited by People veteran Jess Cagle--who will be front and center on the Oscar red carpet Sunday--is up in the air. Long-time EW editor Jim Seymore, who built the magazine into a powerful entertainment title, later ravaged by the recession and online competition, wrote on Facebook:

The imminent sale and breakup of Time Inc., the greatest magazine publishing company in American history, is a devastating coda to a long, sad decline. Everyone knows the financial pressures crushing print media these days, but no one has mentioned the internal, editorial rot that has undermined Time Inc. during the last 20 years. This may not be the place to name names, but this may well be the time to do so...

Cable Neuhaus, the west coast editor when I was at EW in the 90s, also wrote on Facebook:

If Meredith ends up closing the deal for Time Inc.'s magazines, chiefly to bulk up its strength in the traditional (and older) women's demographics, one can easily imagine the company selling or shutting down Entertainment Weekly (where I spent 11 years).

Consider me a fan of EW and Time--I still subscribe to both. Whatever Time Warner hasn't been doing right with these magazines, I highly doubt that Meredith will do better by them. EW isn't a women's magazine. I was always amused by the fact that one of its target demos was known inside the mag as "men who like to shop." I hope there's a way to keep it going. More details on the Time Warner transition here.

Meanwhile Jay Penske, CEO of Variety parent Penske Media Corp, is about to reveal his reboot of Variety amid considerable anxiety at the venerable trade. Penske, who also runs sites Deadline and Movieline, will be making radical changes in the direction of an online/print hybrid which insiders describe as a classy bi-weekly publication more like the late great Premiere (which was an expensive monthly newstand-only venture).  While The Hollywood Reporter is the consumer-friendly celebtastic version of a trade, we don't know their real numbers, even though editor Janice Min is making solid gains on her target, luxury ads, beyond endemic advertising during awards seasons. Variety --which insiders insist is in better financial shape than outsiders believe--wants to polish up the respect and authority that go with its Tiffany brand, heading in the direction of quality entertainment business journalism. A new online site will be going up, among other changes.

"The future is unbelievably bright," says Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos. "It's what we've wanted for a long time: to be lead by someone progressive, adventurous, intelligent, focused, creative and transformative. It's a very exciting time." Soon, Gaydos promises, the news of various changes afoot will start to roll out. He couldn't comment on the frequency of publication.

But it's indicative of the insecurity at Variety that yet another one of their stars, television and features managing editor Stuart Levine, is leaving the pub for greener pastures. Levine is joining NBC's PR team as v.p.of editorial and media relations. "We're grateful for the 15 years Stu has devoted to Variety and for all his hard work," Penske stated. "We will be announcing two senior TV hires in the next few weeks as part of the evolution of the business. We wish Stu every success in this new chapter of his career."

Meanwhile there are rumblings that vendors and Variety freelancers, including regular non-staff critics, are not getting paid in a timely manner. Some of this is the transition from one accounting infrastructure to another, but Variety is also changing up its payment practices so that they will pay contributors via monthly invoices rather than by the piece. See the December 10 letter from Variety editor Tim Gray (below). According to several writers, the January 15 and February 15 payment dates have come and gone; one critic just got his November check today while others are still owed thousands of dollars. A Variety spokesman denies that writers have not been paid, citing the changing time frame for payments.

Meanwhile, as more critics hang up their hats, Michael Sragow, who several years ago transitioned from reviewing for the Baltimore Sun to editing duties at the paper (a move protested by John Waters), applied for and landed a job as film critic for the Orange County Register (their first in a decade), and is in the process of moving back to Los Angeles, where he lived in the 80s when he wrote reviews for Rolling Stone. Sragow has also written for The New Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The San Francisco Examiner, and salon.com, as well as editing several books; he published a 2008 biography of filmmaker Victor Fleming. Welcome back, Michael!

Variety editor Gray's letter to contributors is below:
 

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More: Variety , Media, New Media & Technology, News

1 Comment

  • Richard Horgan | February 19, 2013 8:53 PMReply

    Something else that's rather remarkable about the Sragow situation. He took a buyout from Tribune Co. at the Baltimore Sun late last year. So not only is he in assuming a new full-time critic job at age 60, but he is doing so on the heels of what he might well have thought was his final print media stroke.

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